Friday, October 09, 2009

Not Christian, not Islamic but Nigerian

I REFER to the article by Isiaka Adams in The Guardian (August 7) which dealt with two other articles, one by Dr. Ishaq Akintola and the other by Dr. Reuben Abati, on the matter of Arabic inscriptions on our currency notes.
The articles together with the recent Boko Haram tragedy once again highlight the pathetic state of black Africans in a global cultural context as we find ourselves in dispute over foreign cultures or religions. How ironical it all is when one recalls that the people who brought us Christianity and Islam also enslaved us for centuries in the course of the slave trade!
As for the specific matter of having Arabic inscriptions on some of our currency notes one's own historical recollection is that it was the colonial authorities who introduced the Arabic inscriptions largely because literacy in Arabic in Northern Nigeria preceded the colonial era. As Isiaka Adams notes, the Arabic or Ajami, which is Hausa written in Arabic script, merely stated a currency's denomination or value in Hausa.
There was no religious message whatsoever. Indeed, among many if not most Nigerians, Arabic is virtually synonymous with Islam. Yet, Arabic preceded Islam and the Qur'an states clearly in Sura 43:3 that the message was revealed in Arabic so that Prophet Mohammed (SAW) would understand, he being an Arab. If he was a Nigerian the message would have been revealed in his Nigerian language. In much the same way, English is associated with Christianity in Nigeria simply because the Christian missionaries were mostly English-speaking as were the colonial administrators who were invariably Christians.
Let us note that having Hausa written in Arabic script meant that the only Nigerian language, major or minor, on the currency notes was Hausa. If other Nigerian languages are to be represented for 'balance' or even federal character would they be written in Arabic or English/Latin script? Let us recall that the official language of the country is English which is just as foreign as Arabic. Is it not a pity that in bickering over these foreign imports we are exposing our lack of an indigenous script or alphabet?
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with borrowing or adopting something foreign. For instance, following the Arab conquest and seven centuries occupation of Spain, the Europeans adopted Arabic numerals which had zero or cipher ('sifr' in Arabic) represented, even though they already had Roman or Latin numerals but in which zero is not represented. In the same way algebra ('al jabr' in Arabic), a branch of mathematics was adopted by Europeans.
By the way, Europeans held on to their Latin script. We black Africans would do well to be discerning and so take the best from other cultures as the CNN once advised: "Take the best from the west and leave the rest". Sadly, we appear to prefer to take the waste or worst from the west. As for our currency notes they all bear Arabic numerals which are not ever likely to be tampered with. Indeed, some of the notes still bear Ajami and no other Nigerian language.
Isiaka Adams points out that certain "Christian symbols" such as "the red cross at our hospitals" are enmeshed in our national life. Well, I would simply note that not every cross may be regarded as the Christian cross. The infamous Swastika of Nazi Germany is a form of a cross while the red cross is the Greek cross as well as being the plus sign of mathematics with its equal arms or parts. Perhaps one should refer to it as the "red plus" in order not to hurt the feelings of non-Christians. Kindly note that the letter "T" is also a cross. What may be regarded as the Christian cross is the Latin cross in which one of the four parts below the horizontal is longer than the other parts. It best represents the crucifix but without the body of Christ. As for academic and judicial robes that the writer also referred to one would find that they predated Christianity and reflect European/Roman even near-Eastern but not necessarily Christian culture just as not everything Arabic or Semitic is Islamic! The skullcap worn by the Pope and bishops of the conventional churches has its origin in the Middle East among Jews and, I daresay, Arabs who are both Semites, children of Abraham. In Nigeria we tend to equate the skullcap with Islam.
All said and done, one would appeal to Nigerians and other black Africans not to let the Semitic religions of Christianity and Islam cause bitter conflict among them. Having suffered centuries of enslavement in the slave trade era by Arabs and Europeans who brought us Islam and Christianity respectively we should not let the religions divide us. Instead, we should use the religions to teach the world peaceful coexistence, something the world desperately needs. This we can achieve by living according to the best traditions of whichever of the two religions we are born into or adopt. May we be rightly guided